Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

A Japanese View on Happiness
KODAMA Miiko / Professor, Musashi University

March 31, 2009
Today, economic recession has taken the world by storm and has plunged many people into difficult times. I think there are two factors behind this development. One is the "so what if I make money?" mentality, which led to an ultimate breakdown in morals once it reached the critical point of "I don't care what happens to others as long as I'm making money." You can make money just as long as it brings happiness to people. Securitizing something as risky as sub-prime loans and selling them while expecting their final collapse - this is akin to fraud, and rating companies that gave high ratings to such products should share in the responsibility.

The other factor is Americanization in the name of globalization. Its advance has forced not only capitalist countries but most countries in the world to adopt a U.S.-style economy. As a result, people and governments with no financial dealings were nevertheless caught up in the turmoil, leaving the entire world in the grips of misfortune. Though this may not be as intentional as war, terrorism or murder, it is equally guilty of having caused many to commit suicide or go hungry. Unfortunately, the perpetrators seem unaware of this fact.

What the world needs to think about now is the idea that in other people's happiness lies our own happiness. Even if you are leading a life of luxury, you don't feel comfortable seeing homeless people on the streets. Likewise, once you realize you are satisfying your materialistic desires by sacrificing people in the developing countries, you'd feel ashamed to want more. And if wasting our resources today will bring hardship for future citizens of earth, we shouldn't commit such a crime that would cause pain for our children. If only we could reset our minds to feel grateful for living healthy lives without starving and being able to contribute in some small way to society, we could attain happiness without wanting more money.

In recent years, with the emergence of practices such as the Grameen Bank and Fair Trade, praise has been accorded to new wisdom that offers an alternative to capitalism's excesses. While the logic of capitalism dictates that work is motivated by greater profit, people are just as strongly motivated when faced with a tenfold wage gap between the lowest and highest paid. There are people who feel this way in every country, yet they have long since disappeared from the surface of society.

It is fine that some people seek this spirit in their religion. However, while the Japanese are hardly a religious people, we have historically honored honest living, regardless of whether you are a merchant or a craftsman. Our village communities were managed with due consideration for the environment we hand down to generations of future offspring. It is not so long ago that intellectuals who led a life of "virtuous poverty" were venerated.

Today, we are called upon to restructure our economy. But it is precisely at times like this that we should start by restructuring our mentality. Economic restructuring may be the end result of honest economic practices.

If people who believe in restraining their greed to share with others are somehow connected in a global underground reservoir, this is their time to burst to the surface.

The writer is Professor of the Media Sociology Department at Musashi University.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

小玉美意子 / 武蔵大学教授

2009年 3月 31日







一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟